CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said “it was a heart-breaking moment” to hear President Donald Trump refer to places like Haiti, El Salvador, and nations in Africa as “s***hole countries” in a private Oval Office meeting, comments the president denied making.
Durbin and other senators met with Trump in the Oval Office to discuss legislation to protect young immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation. The senator said he and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had suggested suggested cutting back on the number of people participating in the visa lottery program, when the president began to complain about the U.S. taking immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries.
Sources said Trump suggested accepting “more people from places like Norway.”
“Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?” Trump said, according to the source.
Durbin confirmed the president repeatedly used the term “s***hole countries” in the meeting, calling the president’s words “hate-filled, vile, and racist.”
“It was a heart-breaking moment,” Durbin said. “The most disheartening thing to me is my belief that that was the first time words that hateful have been spoken in the Oval Office of the White House. I think back of presidents throughout history, and I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That’s what breaks my heart.”
In its initial response to the controversy, the White House did not deny the account of the meeting, or directly address the “sh#thole countries” comment.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
Friday morning, Trump issued a vague denial on Twitter.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!” he tweeted.
The president later ignored reporters’ questions about the issue after signing a Martin Luther King Day proclamation at the White House.
Despite the president’s denial, Durbin insisted Trump made the racially charged remark more than once.
“You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not seen one of them that’s inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly,” he said.
Durbin said both he and Graham confronted the president about his remarks.
“For him [Graham] to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage, and I respect him for it,” he said.
The senator said the president’s remarks might convince more Republicans to publicly support efforts to protect immigrants who have participated in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which Trump is seeking to end.
“Last night, several Republican senators said that they were embarrassed by what the president said, and they wanted to be more visible in their support of our bipartisan effort. I’m hoping that others will join them,” Durbin said.
Some Republican lawmakers also were quick to condemn the president’s words.
“The statements of the president are reprehensible. They’re racist,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) said.
A Nigerian activist in Chicago said the president has it all wrong on immigration.
“Those comments were very prejudiced and ignorant, because if you look at the statistics of what African immigrants bring to the economy here in America, you will realize that we are an asset,” Michelle Adeniyi said.